A BLIND SPOT IN MIRANDA RIGHTS: JUVENILES' LACK OF UNDERSTANDING REGARDING MIRANDA LANGUAGE.

Author:Barakat, Wadad
 
FREE EXCERPT
  1. INTRODUCTION

    A fourteen-year-old boy was suspected of armed robbery. (1) The police then knocked at his door, arrested him, booked him, placed him in an interrogation room, handcuffed him to a wall, and left him alone. (2) After two hours, the detectives read him his Miranda rights and questioned him about the robbery. (3) Although the minor told them he had nothing to do with the robbery, the police yelled at him, telling him to be "truthful and honest," and to assume the consequences of his actions. (4) Frightened and confused, he asked several times to call his parents, but his requests were denied. (5)

    This is something that happens to many juveniles (6) who lack the sufficient ability to comprehend the consequences of waiving (7) their Miranda rights as adult people do. (8) Due to the complexity of the Miranda language, minors are waiving their right to counsel while being the subjects of coercive interrogations. (9) As a result, many other juveniles have experienced, are currently experiencing, and will continue to experience this lack of understanding if nothing is done to fix this problem. (10)

    In its current state, Miranda warnings cause fear and confusion in juveniles. (11) Today, juveniles arc kept handcuffed and alone while being presented with language that they are not yet mentally, or cognitive, able to understand at such a young age. (12) Juveniles tend to believe that, if they comply with what an adult is demanding, they will be guaranteed to go home. (13) Juveniles are more likely to feel required to sign a written statement admitting guilt since they do not know any better. (14)

    This Comment addresses the negative implications of juveniles who waive their Miranda rights due to lack of knowledge, fear, and lack of cognitive capabilities. (15) First, this Comment will provide insight regarding the Fifth Amendment, the history of Miranda, and key cases that lead to the reform of Miranda. (16) Second, this Comment will discuss juveniles' perspective of the Miranda language along with the police's perspective. (17) In particular, it will emphasize the complexity of the language as it stands today and how juveniles' cognitive abilities are insufficiently developed to understand it. (18) Lastly, this Comment will propose guidelines to prevent minors from giving false confessions due to their lack of knowledge and/or comprehension of their constitutional rights by implementing a new policy for police officers. (19)

  2. BACKGROUND

    1. FIFTH AMENDMENT

      The Fifth Amendment protects defendants in criminal proceedings. (20) This significant right was established in nine state constitutions and was part of the common law throughout most of the colonies until it was incorporated in the U.S. Constitution. (21) The Fifth Amendment "was created in reaction to the excesses of the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission--British courts of equity that regulated from 1487 to 1641." (22) Once the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished, the common law courts of England incorporated the principle of "nemo tenetur" that no man should be bound to accuse himself. (23)

      By the 18th century, English law provided that neither coerced confessions during the trial, nor pretrial confessions obtained through torture could be used based on the belief that coerced confessions were inherently unreliable. (24) Since then, the Fifth Amendment has been expanded to apply, not only to criminal proceedings and pretrial proceedings in criminal matters including police interrogations, but also to "any other proceeding, civil or criminal, formal or informal, where his answers might incriminate him in future criminal proceedings." (25)

      The main function of the Fifth Amendment has been to protect a "natural individual from compulsory incrimination through his own testimony or personal records." (26) It provides a suspect the right to remain silent in order to avoid perjury, contempt, and self-incrimination. (27) By the 1960s, the Fifth Amendment was recognized in Malloy v. Hogan as "the essential mainstay of our adversary system." (28) As a mainstay of our legal system, the Fifth Amendment must be granted a liberal construction in favor of the right it was intended to secure. (29) A person's decision to testify or remain silent must be the consequence of an "unfettered exercise of his own will." (30) Consequently, the invocation of the Fifth Amendment cannot be discouraged by the imposition of any penalty for its assertion. (31)

      In Murphy v. Waterfront Comm'n of New York Harbor, a set of the fundamental values of the Fifth Amendment was laid out to justify the privilege against self-compelled incrimination. (32) Additionally, the Fifth Amendment protects people from arbitrary government action. (33) It ensures that one cannot be punished without the government legitimately proving that one committed a crime. (34)

    2. MIRANDA'S HISTORY

      Minors and adults share many of the same rights under the law, but most juveniles lack the maturity to truly understand what having those rights actually entails. (35) Before the twentieth century, juveniles were treated and sentenced as adults. (36) The juvenile court established in the 1900s was very different from the adult court because it had informal proceedings, proceedings based on civil law, closed proceedings, emphasis on helping the child, and lack of jury trials. (37) "In fact, prior to the 1960s juveniles had few Due Process rights." (38)

      The juvenile court system remained unchanged until the landmark Supreme Court decision, In Re Gault, which held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied to juvenile court proceedings. (39) Decided just one year before, Miranda v. Arizona held that adults apprehended by the police must be informed of the elements of the right to remain silent and of the right to counsel before interrogation. (40) The landmark decision created a system where the accused must be allowed certain rights, and in order for them to be effective, the suspect must be informed of those rights and understand their meaning. (41)

      In Escobedo v. Illinois, the Court outlined the fundamental principles that would become the backbone of the Miranda decision. (42) The Court held that the absence of counsel after the right has been invoked is itself a violation of a constitutional right and is justification for reversal of any subsequent conviction. (43) Nonetheless, the Miranda holding may be seen as a departure from the due process analysis established in Malloy and Escobedo cases. (44)

      The Supreme Court has broadened the use of the Miranda warning by extending it to minors questioned by police at schools. (45) In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, the Court split on the question of whether a suspect's age must be taken into consideration in deciding to issue Miranda warnings. (46) Writing for the five-member Court majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated there is "no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to [the] commonsense reality" that minors "will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances" would feel free to leave. (47) Until this date, Miranda remains a vital component of the American criminal justice system; however, for several years the Supreme Court had considered issues regarding custodial interrogations and confessions leading up to the Court's opinion in Miranda that must be addressed. (48)

    3. KEY CASES LEADING TO MIRANDA REFORM

      The decision from J.D.B. v. North Carolina was drawn from two other Supreme Court cases. (49) In Roper v. Simmons, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy declared that people who kill at age sixteen or seventeen cannot be executed. (50) Similarly, in Graham v. Florida, Justice Kennedy explained that barring life imprisonment without parole sentences "gives all juvenile nonhomicide offenders a chance to demonstrate maturity and reform." (51) In these cases, the Court explained that juveniles lack maturity, have difficulty weighing long-term consequences, and may not understand the criminal justice system or the role of police. (52)

      In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, the Court analyzed that the test for custody under Miranda limits itself to consideration of objective circumstances in determining how a reasonable person in the suspect's position would understand his freedom to end the questioning and leave. (53) The Court also reasoned that "police officers and judges can recognize age without doing any damage to the objective nature of the custody analysis." (54) This landmark sentencing decision has led to calls for systematic changes to many other aspects of the juvenile justice system. (55) In actuality, the Miranda warnings are too complex for a juvenile to understand. (56) Unfortunately, a juvenile's difficulty in exercising these rights is only one of the many issues and consequences they experience. (57)

  3. DISCUSSION

    1. JUVENILES' PERSPECTIVE

      While Miranda warnings do exist, the purpose of their existence is not being achieved when it comes to juveniles. (58) As minors age, they continue to develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills, which leads to an increased ability to take part in logical decision-making. (59) Juveniles who have yet to develop such faculties may encounter difficulty remembering and articulating their experience during a police interrogation. (60) In general, juveniles lack certain skills that adults possess, such as the psychosocial and cognitive maturity to consider the consequences of a waiver of rights, or the ability to reason how to make such a decision. (61)

      In Commonwealth v. Truong, a Massachusetts trial court suppressed the confession of an almost-seventeen-ycar-old girl to the murder of her daughter, despite being validly read the Miranda warnings because she did not have the requisite intelligence, knowledge, experience, or sophistication to understand her rights. (62) Similarly, in Haley v. Ohio, the Supreme Court...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP